Catholic gentry at the manor 
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Roman Catholicism in England was outlawed: Civil rights were not fully restored to Catholics until 1829. At a secret conference in 1586 at Harleyford on the River Thames, Catholic leaders devised a survival strategy: clandestine chaplains would be based in the homes of sympathetic gentry. Buckland played an important role in that strategy.
Buckland’s main manorial estate remained in Catholic hands until the early 20th century. Faringdon’s present Catholic parish has its origins in the covert Catholic mission maintained at Buckland by the Yate and Throckmorton families from the late 16th century onwards.
The Yate family were in the Vale of White Horse by the 15th century; they were shepherds and wool merchants. Yate is a dialect form of ‘gate’: their heraldic shield features gates with the bracing forming the letter Y.
In 1577, John Yate of Buckland was listed as a Catholic recusant – someone who refused to attend Church of England services. At Candlemas that year, a priest hunter raided Buckland Manor. John Yate’s secret chaplain, William Hopton, had a narrow escape: his gown was found, still warm under the armpits. Memorial brasses to John Yate and his family are in the north transept of St Mary’s parish church, which was the closest part of the church to the original manor house; it continued to be used for burials and memorials by the family, despite the change of religion.
John Yate’s son Edward married Jane Gifford, whose brother became Archbishop of Rheims. Edward, like many heads of secretly Catholic households, seems to have been a ‘Church papist’ – someone who outwardly conformed to the Church of England to avoid punishment but who was at heart a Catholic and kept a Catholic household. His wife was listed as a recusant and his brother John was a Jesuit priest.
The Yates of Buckland had Yate cousins nearby at Lyford Grange. It was there that the Jesuit priest and intellectual Edmund Campion was captured after he covertly produced and distributed his book ‘Decem Rationes’ (Ten Reasons) in 1581. Campion was given a show trial in London and then hanged, drawn and quartered. He became a source of great inspiration to recusant Catholics and was canonised in 1970.
Edward Yate II of Buckland was made a baronet by King James I. Edward was Sheriff of Berkshire 1628-29 and patron of St Mary’s church, despite this being illegal for a Catholic. He was listed as a recusant during the Civil War; his monument is in the north aisle of St Mary’s church.
Sir Edward’s son, Sir John Yate, succeeded him and married Mary Packington. She owned Harvington Hall near Kidderminster, a moated manor house with many cunningly disguised priest-holes, where she harboured Catholic priests. Sir John died in 1658 and is commemorated by a monument erected in the north aisle of St Mary’s parish church, Buckland. This states in Latin that
he died piously with the sacrament of the Holy Roman Church.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 came a new crackdown on Catholicism. The Yate baronetcy became extinct when Sir John Yate died childless at the Jacobite court in Paris. The main Buckland manor then passed by marriage to the Throckmortons of Coughton Court, who continued to support Catholicism in Buckland.
The Throckmortons were one of the richest recusant families. Despite financial penalties for being Catholic, they managed to retain their lands and added to them by inheritance. The north transept of St Mary’s church contains Throckmorton funerary hatchments – diamond-shaped boards fixed to the ceiling, bearing coats of arms featuring the heraldic devices of the Catholic families into which the Throckmortons married and all surmounted by the Throckmorton’s elephant’s head crest.
Sir Robert Throckmorton, the first of his family to own Buckland manor, spent little time there. But in 1757 his son, another Sir Robert, started construction of a new and far grander mansion, Buckland House. The work was designed and directed by John Wood the younger of Bath and the house was considered one of the finest smaller mansions in Berkshire. It comprises a three-storey rectangular building with long single-storey side wings, terminating in octagonal rooms. The west wing was used as a private Catholic chapel, dedicated to St George.
At the same time, the old Buckland Manor was converted into stables, with a facade in Strawberry Hill Gothick style. To ensure a visual match with the parish church, Sir Robert altered the embattled parapet on the roof and tower of St Mary’s church. This reflects the cordial relations between Buckland’s Catholic squires and Anglican clergy.
From time to time, the government carried out censuses of Catholics. In 1676, Buckland was the most recusant parish in Berkshire; in 1767 there were 42 Catholics in the parish.
After the failure of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, the government became more relaxed towards Catholicism. From 1753, the Throckmorton’s chaplain felt safe enough to start keeping paper records of Catholic baptisms. From 1783 onwards, he also recorded marriages and burials. At that time, Catholics and other non-Anglicans (apart from Quakers and Jews) had by law to marry in the Anglican church; Catholics would often have two ceremonies, one in the parish church to comply with civil law and a private Catholic wedding.
Buckland passed to Sir Robert’s grandson, Sir John Courtenay Throckmorton. His chaplain was the radical Joseph Berington. They met via the Catholic Committee, which campaigned for Catholic emancipation and a greater role for the laity within the Catholic church. In 1790, Sir John published tracts arguing for a lay voice in the appointment of Catholic bishops. Father Berington was disciplined by the Catholic church for his outspoken and radical views but was very popular with clergy of other denominations; so much so, that he is commemorated by a plaque on the north wall of St Mary’s church.
In 1811, Sir John Throckmorton wagered 1,000 guineas that, by sunset of the longest day, he would wear a coat made from wool that until sunrise had been on his own sheep. The shearing was done at Greenham and 5,000 spectators watched the proceedings. That evening, Sir John wore his coat at The Pelican Inn, Speenhamland, having won his bet.
Sir John died childless in 1819 and Buckland passed to his brother, Sir George, who also died without issue. Another brother, Sir Charles, then succeeded to the baronetcy and held it at the time of Catholic Emancipation in 1829.
Sir Charles’ nephew, Robert George Throckmorton, became one of the first Catholic MPs since the Reformation, representing Berkshire from 1831 to 1835. He succeeded to the baronetcy in 1840 and was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1843.
It was from this unusually strong recusant background that the Catholic church of St George came to be built by Sir Robert. Designed by Charles Hansom and completed in 1848, it was the first purpose-built Catholic church in the Vale of White Horse since the Reformation. By the mid 19th century, the Buckland mission’s Catholic congregation exceeded 200, drawing in people from surrounding towns and villages.
On 3 April 1909, Sir William Throckmorton sold the manorial estate to Sir Maurice Fitzgerald, 20th Knight of Kerry. Although the new owners were Anglicans, they agreed that Catholic services could still be held in St George’s. At 11 o’clock on the morning of 23 June 1909, Sir William Throckmorton and his family left Buckland. After 350 years of the Catholic lords of Buckland manor nurturing the survival of their faith, the last one had gone.
- Thanks to Tony Hadland for his research and writing for this section
- Photo courtesy of Worlledge Associates